By Patrick Giorgio
The Tampa Bay Rays are the best team in baseball. No, this is not a typo. No, this is not a sick joke. No, the apocalypse is not coming. The Rays just have an amazing nucleus to build with for years. Chicago and New York, Boston and the heavily over hyped Detroit Tigers have dominated headlines all year. ESPN highlights, newspaper covers and radio wave discussion hoisted the same 5 or 6 teams all year long while the best ball was being played in Florida, America’s retirement home.
A lineup with known stars Carl Crawford, BJ Upton and Carlos Pena is scary. Now the Devil-less Ray’s star-in-the-making in Evan Longoria makes them even more dangerous. Tampa has little…scratch that; Tampa has NO experience in being in first place going down the stretch. How they react to being the favorites will be interesting. The pitching on the team is just as competent as any other in the AL. Kazmir, Shields, Garza ..That 1-3 punch is on par to your Beckett-DiceK-Lester’s or whatever AL Central team wins that dogfight. Will the Rays be in first place as September rolls around? Probably not, however they’re going to be fun in the Wild Card race this summer.
The Boston Red Sox have lost Curt Schilling for the whole season, David Ortiz for well over a month, their catcher was just in the midst of a 6 for 65 slump and Josh Beckett has an ERA around 4. With that said, Boston is in control of the wild card, cruising away thanks to the mind-boggling production of JD Drew, who should be in anybodies top 5 MVP candidates right now. Manny Ramirez is having a let down for a “contract season” but solid none the less and youngsters Ellsbury (leading league in stolen bases) and Dusty Pedroia (hitting .313 right now) have kept them on a collision course for the playoffs yet again.
Boston is primed up with Beckett, DiceK, Lester and Wake all healthy. That “other” no-hitter guy they had last year should be coming back any day now and if Clay doesn’t work out they have Masterson in their bullpen who has shown he can be a consistent starter if need be. The only weakness on Boston is the sudden vulnerability of Hideki Okajima in the 8th inning coupled with unreliable names that rhyme with “Shimlin”, “Hellbarman” and an old 1990’s pop band. Assuming this crew still continues to build the bridge to their chubby, jig-dancing all-star closer in Papelbon the Red Sox should be printing out their tickets for Home Field Advantage come October.
The Yankees are a confusing bunch. The best player on baseball resides in the heart of their lineup. Amidst a divorce, claims of infidelity and newfound religious revelations, Alex is still projected to put up a .317 batting average, 70 Extra Base hits, 100 Runs & RBI and a nifty 25 Stolen Bases. Veterans Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu are on pace for having the worst seasons of their celebrated careers. Youngsters Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera are not flourishing despite having more experience under their belts. Jorge Posada and Insert-Molina make a nice catcher tandem but Jorge needs to stay healthy. Somehow New York sits above the .500 mark and still in the thick of things in the AL Wildcard race. Joba Chamberlain is proving lovable Hank right:
Starter 2.57 ERA, 35 IP, 37 K, .242 Batting Average Against
Reliever: 2.28 ERA, 23.2 IP, 30 K, .190 Batting Average Against
Small sample size or not, Joba Chamberlain is developing into as good as any pitcher in baseball. This helps when Wang is out for most of the year. What can Joe Girardi expect down the stretch from Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte? Both are peaking right now, surely they won’t put up this production come September. Ian Kennedy, Sidney Ponson and Darryl Rasner? I don’t see an Aaron Small on that list. Phil Hughes may want to steer clear of returning to this nightmare and get ready for next year. New York still has too much of a track record to remove as a solid Wild Card contender.
Good luck next year Blue Jays and Orioles. My prediction is Tampa Bay over the Chicago Cubs in extra innings of game 7 at Wrigley Field…Carl Crawford scores on a Longoria single that goes through the legs of Derrek Lee. PS: Mariano Rivera needs a Cy Young before his career is over, why not 2008?